Here's what will happen if a student or teacher tests positive for COVID-19 at an Iowa school
When a student or school employee tests positive for the coronavirus this fall, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and public health officials recommend sending the infected person home and quarantining any of the person's close contacts, but not necessarily closing down the school.
Reynolds laid out guidance Thursday for how public health officials will respond when students or school staff suspect they might have contracted the coronavirus. She also laid out when schools can forgo in-person instruction requirements, saying they will only be allowed to do so once the county where that school is located has a 15% coronavirus positivity rate and the school has at least 10% absenteeism.
Dr. Caitlin Pedati, the state medical director and epidemiologist, said Thursday that it's important for Iowans to know there is a plan in place for when coronavirus cases are identified in schools, "which we expect will happen."
Pedati said it's important for families to remember that the coronavirus outbreak is continuing to change and the state's response needs to be flexible.
"We might need to adjust our guidance again in the future as we learn new things and as the science develops, and we’ll continue to do that in conjunction with our public health and education partners," she said.
Here's what the Iowa Department of Education and Iowa Department of Public Health recommend when students or school staff feel sick or test positive for the coronavirus:
What to do if someone feels sick?
Students and school staff should stay home when they're sick, according to the guidance from the state education and health departments.
If someone has a high-risk symptom, such as a new cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing or a new loss of taste or smell, they should stay home and seek an evaluation from a health care provider, the guidance states.
Students or staff with two or more low-risk symptoms, which include a fever, headache, muscle and body aches, fatigue, sore throat, runny nose, congestion, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea should also stay home and contact a health care provider to be evaluated.
When can someone return to school after feeling sick?
After being evaluated by a health care provider, the guidance says those with a negative COVID-19 test or an alternative diagnosis can return to school after 24 hours if there is no fever and if symptoms are improving.
If someone tests positive for the coronavirus, they can return to school if it has been 10 days since their symptoms started, their symptoms are improving and if they have gone 24 hours with no fever.
Iowa guidelines for evaluating sick students and staff, as schools prepare to re-open in the fall of 2020 during the coronavirus pandemic
What happens if someone tests positive?
If someone tests positive for the coronavirus, the school will contact the local public health department, identify any close contacts and quarantine the exposed students and staff. School staff should also "notify appropriate school administration, families and staff" without revealing the identity of the person who tested positive and supply the public health department with a list of close contacts.
State Sen. Herman Quirmbach, an Ames Democrat who sits on the state Education Committee, criticized Reynolds for not saying explicitly that parents will be notified if a student in their child's class tests positive.
"The privacy of individual students must be respected, of course, but parents have a right to be notified that a positive COVID-19 case exists in their child’s classroom. The governor hasn’t said they would be told," Quirmbach said in a statement.
Once the public health department is notified, department officials will recommend all household contacts of the COVID-19 case quarantine themselves and will also work with schools to determine which students and staff should quarantine, the guidance states.
IDPH defines "close contact" as an individual who has been within six feet of someone with a positive COVID-19 case for more than 15 minutes during the coronavirus's infectious period.
How long should a student quarantine?
Students who come in contact with a positive COVID-19 case can return to school 14 days after their last contact with the positive case if they don't develop any symptoms.
If students does develop symptoms, they should see a health care provider. If they test positive, they should isolate for 10 days, the guidance states.
Pedati stressed that it's important to fully complete the 14-day quarantine period, even if the person does not develop symptoms.
"It’s also important to remember that that 14-day quarantine period right now has to stay for the full time, even if you have a negative test result," Pedati said. "So, for example, if I was exposed to a positive case and after two days test negative, I still need to complete my 14-day quarantine because I could still be incubating the virus."
Can staff exposed to a person with COVID-19 keep working?
Staff members who come in contact with a person who tests positive for the virus may be allowed to stay at work if the staff members are asymptomatic, the guidance states. Staff should take their temperatures and screen for symptoms at the start and end of each day and wear masks at work.
"Staff may be considered critical personnel and can be allowed to return to work if there are staffing shortages as long as they remain asymptomatic," the guidance states.
If a staff member does develop symptoms, the guidance says they must isolate immediately.
Anyone who has previously been diagnosed positive for COVID-19 within the past 12 weeks does not need to quarantine when exposed to a new COVID-19 case, the guidance states.
Stephen Gruber-Miller covers the Iowa Statehouse and politics for the Register. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.